With the help of 50 sexual assault survivors, including two UC Berkeley-affiliated individuals, Lady Gaga performed her Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens to You” at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.
UC Berkeley junior Thanh Mai Bercher and alumna Sofie Karasek, both advocates of sexual assault prevention, were invited to the Oscars by the production crew of “The Hunting Ground,” the Kirby Dick-directed documentary for which Lady Gaga co-wrote and performed the best original song nominee.
While “Til It Happens to You” would later go on to lose to “Writing’s on the Wall,” co-written by Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes, it still moved audiences worldwide, Karasek said.
“Just from the people I’ve talked to, it’s been incredibly impactful,” she said. “It’s made people feel incredibly less isolated and less alone.”
Both Karasek and Bercher have a history of activism within the larger anti-sexual assault movement — namely Karasek’s work on “The Hunting Ground” and Bercher’s contributions to campus campaigns such as Redefine Mine.
According to Karasek, Lady Gaga’s team spearheaded the idea to invite survivors from across the country to the Oscars stage. Karasek described the rehearsals in the week leading up to the ceremony as “incredibly powerful,” especially in the presence of a performer who was personally affected by sexual assault.
“It wasn’t just about having the coolest performance at the Oscars,” Karasek said. “It was about making a statement.”
Aside from standing in solidarity onstage to the tune of 34 million viewers, the survivors also met and spoke with Academy Award nominees, including Kate Winslet, Eddie Redmayne and eventual best actress winner Brie Larson, according to Bercher. Larson later hugged each survivor in attendance.
Bercher said, however, that the most mesmerizing part of the evening was connecting with the survivors who joined her at the ceremony — many of whom Bercher and Karasek had not met prior to the rehearsal process.
“I was just kind of more in awe of the people around me than the celebrities themselves,” Bercher said.
According to Karasek, Lady Gaga’s performance inspired an outpouring of support and gratitude from not only the attendees but viewers at home. She added that friends have told her that more sexual assault survivors are revealing their stories in the wake of the awards show.
For Karasek and Bercher, the performance opened up a powerful dialogue on sexual assault, and they hope it will continue to propel the movement.
“I think we definitely accomplished more than any one award could have last night,” Karasek said. “Though it would have been symbolic to win (the Oscar), it was more symbolic that we didn’t, because it’s reflective of how much further we have to go.”